Navy and Cal are not strangers to each other.
The two programs have a hefty respect for each other, and their coaches get along well. The Midshipman show up, march in all backs straight and uniforms creased, and rattle teeth on the field.
However, Cal can stand up straight, too, and they have been known to make a tackle, and elude a few.
The postseason history between Cal and Navy dates back most recently to May 4, 2007, when the Bears beat the Midshipmen, 63-31, in the national collegiate semifinals. Cal also came out on top in their next and most recent meeting in 15s, at the 2009 San Diego Invitational, where Cal beat Navy, 54-7.
Both teams have completely turned over their rosters since those meetings and have only competed recently against each other in 7s. Cal has also had success there, beating the Midshipmen twice in 2012, at the Collegiate Rugby Championship 7s in June and in the September final of the Buckeye 7s.
An intriguing matchup is sure to play out on Saturday at halfback and flyhalf, with Cal's young tandem of sophomore scrumhalf Nicklas Boyer and freshman Harry Adolphus facing off against Ricky Neel-Feller and Jack McAuliffe, both of whom made major impacts in the Middies' Super Regional victory.
"This is in many ways a typical Naval Academy team, a bunch of tough, athletic, competitive guys," said Bears head coach Jack Clark. "What is somewhat unique in this version of academy rugby is the quality of their halfbacks. I thought they were the best combination at the regional. They are both gifted athletes and exceptional rugby playmakers."
In addition, Seamus Siefring, their flanker-turned-center, is all kinds of problems for tacklers. Low to the ground and very strong, he will relish the challenge Cal puts before him.
Neel-Feller had a brilliant game against Dartmouth, and his leadership helped spur a determined forward pack. Darien Green was excellent at loosehead prop – no one seems to have gotten the better of him this season.
Young lock John Thornton was also solid.
“Here we are back again,” joked Flanagan. “This is a tough game, we know that. We know we have to be at the top of our game. We know what we need to do is play the game as we know how to play it. Perhaps what’s been good for us is, we’ve been challenged. Most good college teams aren’t used to being made to go backwards. We’ve had tough games, such as Army, and that has been a good lesson for us.”
Meanwhile, Cal hasn’t stepped backward against anyone for more than a moment, but they understand what this game means. It will be the final home game for many seniors, shown on the Pac 12 Network, and will be a game they must win to make the Varsity Cup Final.
It’s not a foregone conclusion that Cal will win and face off with BYU a week later … but it does seem to have that ring of destiny about it.
The Varsity Cup semifinal between California and Navy will be webcast live at 2 pm PT Saturday, April 27, on Pac-12.com. To watch the event live and for free, go to http://pac-12.com/live/calbears.aspx.